The soft afternoon sun shines down on children splashing in water pools that have sprung up in vast swaths of lush green rice fields. The children jump, swim and laugh amidst violet lilies.
Yet Pedrito, 10, remembers how two years ago, instead of gentle sun rays, strong storms raged, transforming the calm water pools into deadly tidal waves.
That day in 2015, Pedrito’s teacher had warned students not to attend school as a storm was brewing; yet the storm’s force had been underestimated. It was almost midday; rain was lashing down outside as Pedrito played; his grandmother, Suzarina Armenio, cooked; and his older brother, Andre, 14, washed the plates. Suddenly, there was a deafening roar, followed by high waves crashing through their home. Before they knew it, the water had reached Pedrito’s shoulders. Fear gripped them all, especially as only Andre knew how to swim. They fled to higher ground. But not all of them made it. Pedrito’s great aunt, who was in the rice fields, drowned.
When the waters subsided, Pedrito and his family returned to find their entire home had been washed away along with their chickens and all their possessions, including bedding, clothes and school books. “I cried,” says Pedrito.
Not only did Pedrito no longer have any school books, all the school’s furniture, books and records were also washed away, and lessons were impossible for at least a month as the classrooms were full of mud.
Pedrito’s brother and grandmother took part in the clean-up. “We used shovels, coconut shells and our hands. Pedrito was too young to help,” says Suzarina, a widow, who has been looking after Pedrito since he was 6 months old when his mother died. They live in Iocata, some 100 kilometres from Quelimane, the provincial capital of the northern province of Zambézia which, like the rest of the country, is prone to recurrent disasters.
In 2015, Mozambique, along with Dominica and Malawi, was at the top of the list of countries most affected by disasters such as droughts, floods, cyclones, epidemics and minor earthquakes (Global Climate Risk Index, 2017). According to official figures, the 2015 floods and strong winds affected more than 370,000 people, claimed 163 lives and resulted in more than 8,300 cases of cholera, including in Zambézia. Moreover, storms destroyed 2,200 classrooms, affecting more than 150,000 students (UN Habitat, 2015).
Due to these recurrent disasters, UNICEF, along with partners like UN Habitat, is supporting the government with its effort towards resilience-building. Tito Bonde, UNICEF emergency specialist, highlights that, “Although ensuring survival is critical during an emergency, we should also ensure that all children’s rights are met, including the right to education. Children should not have their education interrupted every year due to disasters. We know these disasters are recurrent and, due to climate change, are likely to become even more frequent and severe. We also know the most vulnerable – including the poor, orphans and children with disabilities – will suffer the most.”
Therefore, in 2016, a pilot programme for emergency preparedness in schools was established, piloted in three provinces: Gaza in the south of the country, Zambézia in the centre, and Nampula in the north. Later the programme will be scaled up throughout the rest of the country. As part of the programme, UNICEF and UN Habitat assist with training workshops for school disaster management committees made up of students, parents and guardians, and community members.
Bonde says, “We assist the committees to draw up emergency plans for their schools. These complement other resilient or disaster risk reduction measures already in place; however, these plans focus on the skills already in that community, and will build on the resilience that community members have demonstrated in the past. It’s an example of integrating emergency preparedness activities within our long-term development programme.”
Bonde stresses that, “children should participate in the committees, and the plans should not be too technical, and should be relevant to the realities of that community and the needs of the children.” For example, he says “the plans will include evacuations routes, actions to protect all children and special measures for children with disabilities, and will look at how to protect school materials, including records.”